Governor Created Toxic Work Environment for Women, Investigation Finds

Call it “conduct unbecoming an officer,” but three-term governor Andrew Cuomo’s unwanted and uninvited sexual behavior toward female staff members are a matter of record now. In a scathing investigative report released Tuesday by Attorney General Letitia James, the 164-page document corroborates allegations made by several women, all former or current staff of the governor.

Employment discrimination attorney Anne Clark and Joon Kim, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, were chosen to conduct the investigation into allegations made by 11 women who worked directly for Cuomo, including one NYS Trooper on his guard detail. During the course of the investigation, attorneys spoke to 179 witnesses and combed over 74,000 pieces of evidence that included texts, e-mails, audio files and pictures; they often referred to testimony by an as-yet unnamed Executive Assistant No. 1 during the press conference.

“The Governor on numerous occasions engaged in non-consensual touching and continually made comments of a sexualized or gender-based nature. They were not isolated incidents… but were a pattern of sexually harassing behavior that was not isolated to his staff but to others in the State government,” said Clark. She also noted that Cuomo “crossed the line many times, as with Charlotte Bennet, the second woman who spoke out against him. A female NYS Trooper was also harassed; he asked her if she was monogamous and wanted to know how old she was…and he touched her between her chest and private parts (witnessed by another Trooper). He engaged in subjecting women to unwanted hugs and kisses– conduct that is not just old-fashioned affection—but harassment.”

Koon said the workplace culture in the Executive Chamber “allowed the Governor’s sexually harassing conduct to persist…words that witnesses used include toxic; hostile; abusive; fear; intimidation; bullying; and vindictive. It was culture where you could not say NO to the Governor,” continued Joon. “The Executive Chamber’s culture of fear and flirtation, intimidation and intimacy, abuse and affection, created a work environment ripe for harassment.”

Both attorneys said the Executive Chamber’s conduct normalized everyday flirtations and sexual intimacy; they substantiated the claims made by Charlotte Bennett, who was transferred after she reported inappropriate comments by the Governor to his senior staff, which includes Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa. Joon quoted from Bennett’s testimony: “The verbal abuse, intimidation and living in constant fear was horribly toxic, dehumanizing and traumatizing…then he (Cuomo) came on to me. I was scared to imagine what would happen if I rejected him…my time in public service ended because he was bored and lonely.”

After releasing the document, AG James told the room filled with reporters that “the report speaks for itself. I am focused on the courageous women who came forward…their allegations were substantiated.” James also acknowledged the next step must come from the Legislature, as the work of her office had officially ended. Immediately after the report was released, local and national elected officials called for his resignation.

“Today, it became emphatically clear that he must not be allowed to lead our state another day, after breaking multiple federal and state laws,” said Assemblyman Mike Lawler.

“The substantiation of these allegations against Governor Cuomo by this independent investigation confirm that it is long past time for Governor Cuomo to resign and face consequences for his actions,” said New York Senator Elijah Reichlin-Melnick. “If he refuses, the Assembly should move to impeach immediately.”

President Joe Biden also called for the governor to resign.

Cuomo said he had a “different interpretation” and that he “may have kissed the female Trooper.” He also claimed that Executive Assistant #1—who remained unnamed by the investigators—was the one who initiated contact, not he. After the report was released, Cuomo took the airwaves to blast James’ office, blaming politicians who want to see him removed from office and inferring the investigation was a witch hunt. “Look at my website and decide for yourself. I never touched anyone inappropriately or made sexual advances.” He pooh-poohed Bennett’s allegations, saying he was only trying to help her. Cuomo also said he is having the workplace handbook re-written and that people “should remember where we are—living in a super-heated, if not toxic, political environment—that should not be lost on anyone,” said Cuomo. “Politics and bias are interwoven in every aspect of the situation.”

The Attorney General’s findings on the sexual proclivities of the Governor are final, but the investigation into the thousands of nursing home deaths that were allegedly covered up, as well as the $5 million book deal Cuomo made during the pandemic—claiming staff members “volunteered” to work on it for him—are still hanging over his head and aren’t going anywhere.

With calls coming in from both sides of the aisle in Albany for him to step down, a defiant Cuomo said he’s not going anywhere. “My job is not about me. It’s about you. It’s about getting the most I can get done for you,” said Cuomo. “I will not be distracted from that job. We still have to manage the Covid Beast.”

New Yorkers will still have to manage the “Beast in the Executive Chamber” until the Legislature—or the people—remove him from office.